Free Birds

Jason sent this selfie he took from a hike on Mt. Ranier on Monday. Quite a gentle image, don’t you think, from a guy Arkansas insists is a killer?

Jason Baldwin Video – I No Longer Face The Storm Alone

Jason Baldwin Video – I No Longer Face The Storm Alone. This film focuses on the writing of Jason Baldwin and how he used art to get him through the days at Grady Correctional in Arkansas, as well as to inspire hope in those around him.

In 1994, the West Memphis Three – Jessie Misskelley, Jr., Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin – were convicted of brutal crimes they did not commit. Jason Baldwin was sixteen when he was given a sentence of life without parole.

Read An Excerpt From Dark Spell at Arkansas Times


This excerpt from Dark Spell picks up after Jason is sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 1993 murders of three children in West Memphis.

On that Saturday, March 19, 1994, when Judge David Burnett sentenced Jason to life in prison, the teenager’s 17th birthday was still more than three weeks away. The following Monday morning, guards cuffed and shackled him for the three-hour ride from the jail in Jonesboro, in Arkansas’s northeast corner, to the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Diagnostic Unit in Pine Bluff, about 150 miles south. Carrying his Bible and $35 from his mother and friends at the jail, he climbed into a van with six other prisoners.

Three hours later, the van approached a big brick building surrounded by barbed wire: the prison system’s Diagnostic Unit. “My heart starts beating really hard now,” Jason said, “and my breathing speeds up. I see the guard towers. We pull up to one and the officer driving speaks to another officer up on the balcony, and he says he’s got seven from Craighead County, and yes, Jason Baldwin is one of them.

“At the sound of my name, my heart just stops. This is really happening. I am going to prison for murder. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion. The officer in the tower lowers a milk crate on a rope and the officers up front drop their guns in the basket and it is hoisted away. Then the little bar in front of the van is raised up and we enter the grounds of the prison.”


Photo by Grove Pashley

Jason Baldwin Speaks Out

Jason Baldwin speaks out about the justice system since his escape from Arkansas. He got pretty personal in these recent posts on his FB page.

Here is the first one:

To the murderer of Steve Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers:

In a sense you murdered me too. You murdered my mother, my father and step-father, all my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. You murdered my brothers.You murdered all my friends. My classmates. My teachers and girlfriend. You murdered my neighbor. You murdered everyone I ever knew and loved. You murdered the dreams we had. Murdered the dreams I had. You murdered me. No, you didn’t use whatever you used against Steve Branch, Christopher Byers or Michael Moore but in a sense you did it to me the same. I’m still coming to terms with all that I have lost and continue to suffer for your actions but I am healing.

Whoever you are I advocate for you to be brought to justice. At the age of sixteen I did not choose this path for myself. It is one you put me on when you murdered those boys. It is a heavy and humbling burden. One in which I haven’t the slightest idea of how to carry but I do with all the grace I can muster. That is why I forgive you. I have to in order to have some measure of peace. I will never cease the pursuit of justice for you. I promise you that and this, whomever you are, that whenever you finally are brought to justice I will personally advocate for mercy and that your life be spared. In spite of everything. Be forgiven and begin your own journey of healing by accepting responsibility for your actions. God knows you need it.


Charles Jason Baldwin

One of many surviving victims of the murderer of Steve Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers.

And the second:

When prosecutors enable snitches to work the system by fabricating stories about innocents in order to get out of jail free and win a conviction what happens is society is attacked on two fronts. On one, criminals murder and hurt us. On another, those who vowed to protect and serve us do the same, catching us in a gauntlet. Innocence doesn’t stand a chance in such an arena. I know this for a fact. Prosecutor Brent Davis enabled career criminal Michael Carson to prey upon me in exchange for carte blanche to continue his criminal activities. After his debut into this career Prosecutor Davis set him up in various places including California where Michael fabricated many more stories all while given free reign to break any and all laws of the land.

What many do not know is that Michael Carson was following in his father’s footsteps as he too was a professional snitch and career criminal. Innocence doesn’t stand a chance in such an uneven arena. Prosecutors like this don’t protect us. They prey upon us. They only serve and protect their own interests. I say let’s boycott the profession of prosecutors and replace them with Seekers of Truth. Under such a label their purpose becomes clear. Rather than seeking to prosecute at all costs they will instead seek the truth wherever it leads, eliminating the false premise that a conviction won with such tactics as utilizing jailhouse liars against the innocent populace as justice.

People tend to live up to their labels. Let’s give the profession a title that lives up to the vow of protecting and serving rather than preying upon and persecuting us.


Charles Jason Baldwin

One of many surviving victims of the murderer of Steve Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers.

Jason Baldwin and the Hacky Sack

In the book Dark Spell, Jason Baldwin talks about his experience with a Hacky Sack.

Here is a quote from the book:

At Grimes, Jason picked up a Hacky Sack and found that, “right there where you lived, you had all the room you needed.” Gradually, kicking the Hacky Sack became a central, grounding, and comforting part of his life. “I don’t meditate,” he explained. “Not that I have anything against it. I just have no experience with that. So I’d just put my headphones on and kick the Hacky Sack for physical exercise, to—not tune out but—tune in. It’s like the same feeling you get when you go walking or jogging or biking. You get this oneness feeling, especially when you get caught up in it, and you’re not losing control of it, and an hour has gone by and you’re drenched in sweat, and you got to take a shower, and you feel good.”

And here is a video of Jason showing his Hacky Sack skills.

Ford ‘Failed’ Old Woman

Paul Ford Dark SpellDARK SPELL raises significant questions about what Jason Baldwin’s attorney, Paul Ford, did—and did not do—at Jason’s trial. Why, for instance, did Ford fail to call ANY of Jason’s alibi witnesses? Yesterday I found this:

Last year, the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct, issued Ford a caution, its mildest form of rebuke, for failing to investigate a client’s claim of medical malpractice. Because of Ford’s inaction, the statute of limitations on the client’s claim expired and she was left unable to pursue her intended lawsuit.

According to court records, Dorotha Finnie contacted Ford in January 2011, claiming that treatment for an earache by an emergency room doctor had left her deaf in one ear. Ford agreed to investigate and to take her case if he believed it was viable. If he chose not take her case, he was to notify her.

Finnie reportedly heard nothing more from Ford for the next two years. As the supreme court’s office noted: “After her initial consultation with Ford, Finnie called and visited his office numerous times but was told by a secretary that Ford was not available to speak with her. Ford also failed to return Finnie’s phone calls.”

Finnie filed a grievance with the court’s Office of Professional Conduct on Jan. 7, 2013. When that office contacted Ford, he responded that he had decided not to proceed with Finnie’s case. Ford responded in writing:

“It is my recollection that I discussed this decision with Ms. Finnie by phone. However, I cannot confirm this. It is my usual practice to discuss these matters with the client by phone, or in person, and then confirm the decision in writing. Sadly, there is no letter in my file to confirm the recollection of the phone call.”

Ford also acknowledged that, when he looked into the matter, he realized that the two-year statute of limitations had run on Finnie’s claim. He said that he had intended to inform her of this. “It was also my intention,” he wrote, “to advise her that I had malpractice coverage and that she should seek independent legal counsel on this matter.”

A supreme court committee found that, in his handling of Finnie’s case, Ford had violated three of the court’s Rules of Professional Conduct; failing to competently represent her, failing to act with reasonable diligence, and failing to inform her that he would not file suit on her behalf, with the result that, “the statute of limitations expired on Finnie’s potential claim.”

For this, on Sept. 25, 2013, the Committee on Professional Conduct ordered that Ford be “cautioned for his conduct in this matter and assessed $50 in costs.”

Reached by phone, Finnie, who is now 78, said she could not understand why Ford would never talk to her. She said that when she’d gone to his office, his staff told her “that everything looked good, everything was going fine.”

She said she’d filed her complaint with the supreme court because it was all she knew to do and that last year she received a phone call reporting the committee’s decision. “They said it had gone to the supreme court and it would cost him $50 and it was over.”

Asked how she felt about the fine, Finnie, a retired Walmart employee, laughed. “Isn’t that something?” she said. “I don’t feel like he even missed that $50.”

Some Humans Bite. Revisiting The Evidence.

Soccer fans were stunned when Luis Suarez bit an opponent during the World Cup games—even those who knew that Suarez had received counseling in the past for his habit of aggressive biting. The incident reminds us that some humans are known for leaving their marks—literally—on others.

I watched the news about Suarez recalling the controversy about bite marks found on West Memphis victim Stevie Branch and the first encounter that private investigator Ron Lax and his assistant Rachael Geiser had with Terry Hobbs, Stevie’s stepfather. As I relate in Dark Spell, Geiser reported:

“When we arrived, Terry asked us to wait for a minute while he disappeared to put in his false teeth. He did joke that his false teeth “have nothing to do with the bite marks.”

Now I am grateful to Dr. Mark Cowart, a Tennessee dentist, for the opportunity to urge closer examination of the bite mark on Stevie’s forehead. For years, as Cowart followed the case, nothing related to his profession stood out. However, that situation changed last year, as he explains in the following report.

By: Mark Cowart DDS

In 1998, the defense team for Damien Echols retained criminalist Brent Turvey to examine evidence in what’s known as the case of the West Memphis Three. In Mr. Turvey’s report, “Equivocal Examination and Psychological Profile of Case Evidence”, he mentioned possible human bite marks on the forehead of victim Stevie Branch:


Turvey reported that “there is the existence of patterned injuries all over this victim’s face that could be bite marks. Since the ME [medical examiner] may have missed this crucial evidence, other areas of his body may show bite mark evidence as well.

“The autopsy photos of this victim supplied to this examiner were not of sufficient quality to make an absolute determination of any kind, and would require a thorough examination by a qualified forensic odontologist for an informed, conclusive analysis.”

Turvey added, “Bite mark evidence is very important in any criminal case because it demonstrates behavior and lends itself to individuation. It can reveal to an examiner who committed the act, because bite marks can be as unique as fingerprints. And, once established, it also reveals the act itself; biting.”

In a Rule 37 hearing later that year, Dr. Thomas David, a board certified oral surgeon and forensic odontologist, identified the wound on Stevie’s face as a human adult bite mark. Based on dental impressions obtained from Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley in prison, David said all three were excluded as the offender.

Testifying for the defense, Dr. David offered his opinion that the wound on Branch’s forehead IS a human bite mark beyond reasonable medical certainty. He also pointed out some unusual details in the anatomy of the teeth that caused the wound:

Dr .David: Immediately to the right of the last injury that I described, there is a series of dots, if you will, connected by faint lines that are at right angles to one another.

Q. And based on your training and experience, did you form any opinions about what dental conditions, situations or descriptions might be the cause of that individual characteristic?

Dr. David: I think that probably the most likely explanation for that particular pattern would be that the edge of tooth number nine closest to the mid-line probably has a crack, a chip, some sort of irregularity on the surface that would cause it to mark differently than the edges of those other teeth. But I believe that there’s some unique feature that created a –a–an irregular tissue con—or surface contour on that tooth that’s at right angles to one another, or approaching right angles.


The prosecution countered with testimony from forensic odontologist, Dr. Harry Mincer. Dr. Mincer testified that the wound IS NOT a human bite mark. Dr. Mincer’s main concern is documented in this excerpt from his testimony:

Q. Okay. And using that if you could explain to the Court your biggest concern regarding this not being a bite mark.

Dr. Mincer: My biggest concern of it not being a bite mark—if you look at this one with this curve and this curve and this curve and this curve (INDICATING)—there are curved lines all over this poor victim and even deep gashes which also have a similar curvature which show up better on the side view—the the left side of the face.

Q. Doctor, could you refer to that exhibit number on that?

Dr. Mincer: Exhibit Thirteen M is the blow-up, and that’s the blow-up of the original Ten M.

Q. Okay.

Dr . Mincer: The curvature of these are very similar. I have seen personally two cases and at the meeting every February of the forensic organization—people—several cases have been demonstrated in which if you have multiple wounds, and in some cases the wounds were insect bites—in one of the cases I worked on—they were insect bites and another—well, a fellow showed a picture of crab bites from Florida, from the Gulf of Mexico, in which there were multiple wounds of all sizes and configurations, and it’s not—the conclusion was you would expect to see somewhere a curved pattern similar to a human bite.

“But with reasonable certainty to expect that all of these other wounds were made by some other instrument and that one wound was made by a human bite, would be beyond reason. And that’s mainly the reason I didn’t think that this wound, which somewhat resembles a human bite mark, is a human bite mark.

“If –and in my opinion—if this was the only picture I had—not this one but this one (INDICATING)—I could say this might be a human bite mark. But that’s as much as I could say — it might be.

“And if you said it was—it might be you could never either rule anyone in or out with something you said might be a bite mark because if you’re not certain or even probable that it’s a bite mark, that’s as far as you can go, is to say it might be a bite mark.”

While Dr. Mincer’s conclusion is that the wound IS NOT a human bite mark, his main concern seems illogical. He thinks it “beyond reason” that there could be two different causes for similarly curved wounds. Mincer also is not as steadfast in his opinion as David citing that the wound “might be a human bite mark”.

Judge Burnett sided with the prosecution and the West Memphis Three remained in prison. This hearing did not settle the issue of whether or not a bite mark exists on the forehead of Stevie Branch. Both sides presented credible expert witnesses and the judge did not feel that the defense met its burden of proof in the hearing.

Six years later, in 2004, Pam Hobbs found the partial denture of her estranged husband, Terry Hobbs, in a lock-box in his closet. The event is documented in her 2009 declaration from the Hobbs V. Pasdar civil suit: [link to:]

“Terry also had a strong fireproof lockbox which he locked and kept at the top of our closet. On one occasion in 2004, a boy Jo Lynn was dating pried open the box. The only thing in the box was Terry’s partial denture, a little bitty necklace that had a 1984 penny on it, and a marble. Jo Lynn and I discussed why Terry would lock up a partial denture. The only explanation we could come up with was that he did not want anyone to compare his dental imprint to what some people believed were bite marks on certain victims of the murders.”

Pam Hobbs gave the partial denture to Judge Dan Stidham. She no longer trusted the West Memphis police. Judge Stidham kept the partial denture in his personal safe.

By 2007, funds raised by celebrities such as Sir Peter Jackson allowed for a change of attorneys and experts. The human bite mark issue was overshadowed by expert opinion that almost all the facial wounds to Stevie Branch were caused by animal predation, specifically by a snapping turtle. A demonstration filmed for the documentary West of Memphis portrayed the wound pattern of a snapping turtle’s bite mark. This demonstration, however, compared the bite pattern to a wound on Stevie’s chin…not to the wound on his forehead.


I received a photograph of Hobbs’ partial denture in 2009. Having been a student of Dr. Mincer at the University of Tennessee Dental School in Memphis, I trusted his opinion that the forehead wound was NOT a human bite mark.

It wasn’t until September of 2013 that I realized that none of the new defense experts had ever compared Hobbs’ partial denture to the suspected human bite mark on the forehead of Stevie Branch. These experts had apparently focused only on debunking the State’s theory that the wound was caused by the butt-end of the proposed murder weapon, the Lake Knife.

Again, the defense team’s new forensic experts HAD NOT compared the bite pattern (partial denture) of the man who had by then become their MAIN SUSPECT to a wound that was the focus of the 1998 Rule 37 Hearing—the suspected bite mark on the forehead of Stevie Branch, the stepson of Terry Hobbs.

I proceeded to compare the photograph of Hobbs’ partial denture to the forehead wound. The partial denture was found in the lock-box with a red Marlboro cigarette box and they were photographed together. I purchased the same type Marlboro box to attain the correct scale and used the computer program Gimp 2.9 to create overlays. The photograph below (Photo #4) depicts the results:


After I made the bite mark comparisons, I sent them to several dental experts. Of the many responses I received, NONE opposed the conclusion that the wound on Stevie Branch’s forehead IS a human bite mark.

‘Start talking about the devil’

Burnett 200On March 3, 1994, John Fogleman, then a deputy prosecuting attorney, was preparing to call Damien’s probation officer, Jerry Driver, to the stand to question him about Damien’s alleged involvement in “the occult.” Damien’s and Jason’s defense attorneys were fighting hard to block that testimony. As I write in Dark Spell, the official transcript of that discussion reflects only that Burnett said he would allow Fogleman to question Driver about having seen “Damien, Jason and Jessie walking in Lakeshore wearing black coats and carrying staffs.” But we now know, thanks to a recording of the exchange that was picked up by HBO’s microphones, that that was not all the judge said.

HBO’s audio file of the trial was released to an archive of the West Memphis case a few years ago. An astute listener later caught a comment that the court reporter did not record. On the audio, Burnett can be heard chortling, apparently to the prosecutors, “If y’all want to spice it up a little bit and start talking about the devil, I’ll listen.”

That was the turning point, an opening that, as the case developed, would prove critical for the state. When Damien and Jason appealed their convictions to the Arkansas Supreme Court, the court cited the “testimony of Dr. Dale Griffis,” whom they described as “an expert on ritual killings,” and unanimously found that there was sufficient evidence “by which a jury could find that the crimes were a ritual killing.”

Though the Ph.D. Griffis claimed was discredited even at trial for having come from a mail-order college, Burnett allowed him to testify as an “expert.” And so the die was cast. I had not known of HBO’s recording of Burnett’s “spice it up” comment until this year. But I’m glad it’s in Dark Spell, because I find it the most revealing piece of this entire tawdry case. Listen here.

Poverty and neglect still plague ‘Lakeshore’

University of Memphis journalism student Chelsea Boozer wrote a fine story for yesterdays Memphis Commercial Appeal. Titled “Arkansas trailer park residents find themselves in a dangerous no-man’s land in Lakeshore,” it describes the unincorporated part of Crittenden County where, at various times, Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley and Damien Echols lived, before their arrests.

Boozer, who is president of the Society of Professional Journalists at UM, has already won several journalism awards. She organized this year’s 27th Annual Freedom of Information Congress held at the school in March. It focused on “The Media’s Role in the West Memphis 3 Case” and included a talk by me and a panel discussion.

The big disconnect: official versus public perceptions of the West Memphis case


The case of the West Memphis Three is a landmine for Arkansas’s judiciary. When people anywhere learn what has happened to the three Arkansas men, their confidence in the courts—at least in Arkansas—tends to explode. The damage already has been vast, and it’s likely to spread.

Not that any member of the judiciary has ever publicly acknowledged that. Arkansas elects its judges, its prosecutors and its attorney general. Everyone’s wary of shrapnel.

But jurists throughout the United States recognize that public perception of America’s courts is already suffering. In a 1999 national survey, 23 percent of those surveyed reported that they had a “great deal” of trust in their states’ courts, while 7 percent said they had “hardly any trust.”

In Arkansas, the figures are skewed more dramatically. A 2010 survey in Little Rock in 2010 reported that, while 38 percent of those surveyed said they had a “great deal” of trust in the judicial system, a stunning 54 percent said they held “hardly any.”

In a speech last summer to the Arkansas Bar Association, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah noted what he called those “troubling” figures. “In every speech I have given since becoming chief justice,” he said, “I have made the statement that the success and viability of our court system is totally dependent upon the trust and confidence of the public.”

Hannah told his audience: “We must take seriously the public’s perception and do all that we can to create and sustain a system which both is fair and impartial in fact and in appearance.” (The stresses are his.)

Unfortunately, as thousands are by now aware, the fact and the appearance of injustice permeate the West Memphis case. The totality of injustice extends from the police who investigated the crime and came up with no evidence; to the prosecutors who nonetheless tried to send three teenagers to death for it; to the judge who mocked his own court by qualifying an uncredentialed witness as an  “expert” in the occult; to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which found not a single flaw in either of the men’s two trials; to the state’s attorney general who insists that it’s his job to support the 18-year-long farce and press for an execution.

In the past few months, I have conducted my own informal survey regarding this case. I contacted several people who have worked for years to see the men’s sentences reversed and asked what, if anything, about the case they found “intellectually offensive.”

Here are some of their emailed responses:

Mark Cowart

“I found the West Memphis Police Department’s tactics, the prosecution’s tactics, the public reaction, Judge [David] Burnett’s actions, and the juries’ verdicts offensive.” –Mark Cowart, DDS., Chattanooga, TN

“[The case] was based on hearsay. If there had been a jury composed of critical-thinking individuals instead of a jury swayed by mass hysteria, the outcome would have been much different.” –Dr. Lanette Grate, Conway, AR

[private]“The so-called defense effort for Jason was intellectually offensive. I’m sorry, but it was. Not a single witness was placed on the stand to help that man and that was morally, ethically, and legally wrong. There were certainly people who could have testified to his alibi and to his character. … No one is ever going to convince me that it was fair, just or acceptable that he received counsel that felt a fly-under-the-radar strategy was reasonable. He was a teenager being tried for the murders of three small children. His life was on the line.” —Anonymous

“It was offensive intellectually in every possible way, from the presumption of guilt (which I’m ashamed to say I initially shared) to the shoddy investigation to the coerced ‘confession’ to the inane testimony of ‘Dr.’ Dale Griffis to the argument that reading horror novels and wearing black are evidence of a lack of a soul to the juror misconduct to the idiotic law that requires that appeals be heard by the very judge who presided over the original trial to—well, you name it. If there was anything that wasn’t offensive about the case, I don’t know what it was.” —Dr. David Jauss, Little Rock, AR

“After viewing the documentary (“Paradise Lost”), I remember having a  discussion with family and friends about how scary the prosecution seemed. It seemed like a witch hut. The crowds outside of the courtroom seemed as though they wanted to lynch the teenagers. They appeared to be in a frenzy of hate. I thought the prosecution and detectives and judge seemed to be a bunch of good old boys attempting to convince the jury of the guilt of the three teenagers because they were easy targets. It reminded me of the Salem village witch trials sent in modern-day Arkansas.” —Capi Peck, Little Rock, AR

“I was with some friends in Hawaii who wanted to visit Arkansas until we watched the film together. Then they changed their minds and never came. The salient intellectual objection at the time, for me and those Hawaii residents, was the prosecutor’s closing arguments.” —Brent Peterson, Little Rock, AR

“The state’s use of Dale Griffis as an expert witness. I find it hard to believe that [Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John] Fogleman and [Prosecutor Brent] Davis weren’t smart enough to realize how ridiculous Griffis was, but they called him anyway to testify about the occult because, in my opinion, they knew they didn’t have enough without playing some “occult” card to the jury. I think Fogleman’s comment in closing about looking into Damien [Echols’]eyes and not seeing a soul is a disgusting parlor trick/game, as well.” –Diana Paulson, Chesapeake, VA

“I thought the satanic panic was most unfortunate because no one cared to delve more deeply into it.” –Marie South, Jonesboro, AR

“I never, for a second, believed those three little boys were killed at the ditch-bank scene where their bodies were recovered. The mere sight of their bodies on the ditch-bank at the beginning of ‘Paradise Lost’ has haunted me ever since. I simply could not, even after repeated viewings, reconcile the way they were discovered—hog-tied and naked—with the idea that this was a satanic killing, with a completely clean ‘crime scene.’” –Bob Tankersley, Atlantic Beach, FL

“I lived in Memphis when this happened, and I was offended at the bungling by police. My own son was a police officer in Kentucky at the time, so I found it offensive to see how West Memphis police were handling the case, losing evidence, doing anything to convict—in the easiest way the could—persons who couldn’t defend themselves.” –Pat White, Fairfield, IL

Though I am glad that it ordered a review of this case, however belatedly, my own prize for “most offensive” would go to the Arkansas Supreme Court. It sets the standard for how law is conducted in Arkansas. It permitted this case’s atrocities, not only to occur, but to drag on for 18 years. As the court’s own rules for professional conduct observe:

“The legal profession is largely self-governing. Although other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement. This connection is manifested in the fact that ultimate authority over the legal profession is vested largely in the courts.”

Public confidence in Arkansas’s courts is low and getting lower—and the public’s mistrust extends well beyond the West Memphis case. Whatever happens with that in December, confidence in Arkansas’s courts has suffered. Responsibility for the injury—and the “ultimate authority” to heal it—rests with the supreme court.[/private]